It’s not me, it’s you

Scott & TonySo the Phillies went to the Opryland Resort in Nashville for the Winter Meetings and came back empty handed (though I bet one of the guys in the travelling party swiped a towel or two and all of the sample bottles of shampoo and soap… they know who they are), which really isn’t much of a surprise. After all, just a few weeks ago general manager Pat Gillick told the local scribes to stay home to save them from the boredom.

Then he said he wanted to leave Nashville with a pitcher. In between all of that he called Randy Wolf a jerk for choosing his family and sunny California over dreary Philadelphia and its bandbox of a ballpark.

Nevertheless, the Phillies and… well, the nothing they left with was hardly the most interesting part of the Winter Meetings. Instead, the most interesting part of the Winter Meetings was Cardinals’ manager Tony La Russa’s verbal thrashing of ex-Phillie (and soon to be ex-Cardinal) Scott Rolen in which he ripped the gold glove third baseman a new one before adding, “But of course we’d like to have him back… I don’t understand why he wouldn’t want to come back.”

Then he looked to the side, flashed his lashes coquettishly with his hands jammed into his pockets as he shyly twisted his foot into the ground. Seconds later, a balloon cloud appeared adjacent to the halo above La Russa’s head with, “I’m a li’l stinker,” written in it.

Tony La Russa is, indeed, a little stinker. He’s also a hypocrite and a jackass, but we’ll get into that soon enough. Let’s backtrack to the stuff he said about Rolen for a second.

Here’s the Greatest Hits version from La Russa’s diatribe at Opryland on Wednesday:

“It was unanimous that everyone was for me except him. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t care. What I care about is that he re-establish his stature as a major league productive star.”

“Scott’s got a lot of goodness to him. … I think he has been a team man. He plays a team sport. I don’t think he’s going to want to be the one guy and the 24 guys on the other side of the room.”

“There’s absolutely no intention to accommodate Scott. I mean, that’s not how you run an organization. The idea is to accommodate the St. Louis Cardinals, our team, our responsibility to our players and to the competition. So, no, I don’t want to accommodate Scott. But somebody doesn’t want to be part of the situation, you investigate it.”

“Nobody has more often said that I don’t think Scott should be traded than me. I think he should be with our club. I think we need him. We need him to reassert himself as an impact player. I don’t care what anybody wants in a trade. We need him and we expect him to be productive.”

“It’s very clear that he’s unhappy. And I’m making it clear that I don’t know why he’s unhappy. I can make a list of 50 respect points that this man has been given by our organization. It’s time for him to give back.”

“He’s got a contract to play, and we need him to play. And he’s going to be treated very honestly.”

“If he plays hard and he plays as well as he can, he plays. And if he doesn’t, he can sit. If he doesn’t like it, he can quit.”

“I think he’s strong-minded enough that I don’t see his opinion changing on a personal basis. And it’s gotten to the point that I don’t care. What I care about is that he re-establish his stature as a Major League productive star. And that’s one of the points I’ve tried to make to him.

“We’ve had issues where guys are saying, ‘What’s going on with Scott?’ And he needs to understand that he’s slipped, not in his play, but just in the way he’s perceived as being the Scott we’ve known for a few years. And I think that means a lot to him. He can play mad every day if he wants to. It’s OK.”

“He asked to be traded, so under normal circumstances if a guy doesn’t want to be part of your situation, then you consider that. So inquiries have been made. There hasn’t been anything happening so far that would make the guys in charge pull the trigger . . . I’m just saying from a manager’s point of view, I consistently say don’t trade him. And I say that because one of our important needs is to have somebody who can hit behind Albert [ Pujols].

“I think he has put some things together in his mind and I think he needs to understand that the Cardinals have given him a lot since he’s gotten here. He’s been given a contract, a world championship, and he’s given back some. And so, we need him.”

So yeah, La Russa told Rolen he’s a bad teammate and that everyone else likes the manager but him so he should just shut up and play for a guy he does not like. I don’t know otherwise, but I’m also guessing there isn’t much respect for La Russa either. Sure, he’s a good manager and all of that and Rolen had problems with his last manager before the Phillies sent him to St. Louis.

But I don’t think Rolen ever had to go to court to plead guilty for being drunk and asleep behind the wheel of his car in the middle of an intersection. I also dug around and can’t find any YouTube videos of Rolen flunking a field sobriety test.

I found one of Tony La Russa, though. Here it is:

Two months after this event occurred in Florida, one of La Russa’s pitchers (Josh Hancock) was killed when he was driving drunk. Actually, it was reported that in the days prior to Hancock’s death La Russa had a meeting with the pitcher about drinking.

But really, that isn’t La Russa’s problem. Nor does he set the agenda that Major League Baseball is in business with companies that push the last legal drug. Instead, La Russa’s job is simply to win baseball games and if it takes tearing down Scott Rolen in order to do so, that’s part of it.

Tony La RussaYes, his job is to win baseball games and it’s something he does very well. Better yet, La Russa seems to have a laser focus on winning games to the point that nothing else matters. It’s all about La Russa and winning ballgames.

For instance, La Russa has been an ardent defender of Mark McGwire and the allegations of performance-enhancing drug use during the former player’s assault on the single-season home run records. In 2006, after McGwire’s infamous showing before the Congressional House Government Reform Committee, La Russa continued to maintain that his former player was “legal,” which is a bit semantically. McGwire admitted to using then-legal steroid, androstenedione.

“I have long felt, and still do, there are certain players who need to publicize the legal way to get strong,” La Russa told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in March of 2006. “That’s my biggest complaint. When those players have been asked, they’ve been very defensive or they’ve come out and said ‘Whatever.’ Somebody should explain that you can get big and strong in a legal way. If you’re willing to work hard and be smart about what you ingest, it can be done in a legal way.”

Nothing has dissuaded La Russa from believing McGwire was clean.

“That’s the basis of why I felt so strongly about Mark. I saw him do that for years and years and years. That’s why I believe it. I don’t have anything else to add. Nothing has happened since he made that statement to change my mind.”

La Russa managed the Oakland A’s when McGwire and Jose Canseco were the most-feared slugging duo in the game. Canseco, of course, detailed his (and McGwire’s) steroid use in his book, Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant ‘Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big. But when he played for La Russa, Canseco was something of a “steroid evangelist,” as Howard Bryant wrote in his book, Juicing the Game:

He talked about steroids all of the time, about what they could do and how they helped him. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Canseco put the A’s in a difficult position. The question of his steroid use and the possible use by another teammate, budding superstar named Mark McGwire, grew to be an open suspicion.

Deeply compromised was Tony La Russa. Canseco often spoke unapologetically about steroids, yet La Russa did nothing about it. … La Russa knew about Canseco’s steroid use because Canseco had told him so. Under the spirit of baseball’s rules, La Russa could have contacted his boss, Sandy Alderson, who in turn could have told the Commissioner’s office. That’s how the chain of command was supposed to work, but Canseco was a superstar player, an MVP, and the cornerstone of the Oakland revival. Turning him in would have produced a high-profile disaster. La Russa, knowing that his best player was a steroid user, did nothing.

In fact, La Russa did more than nothing. He not only did not talk to Alderson, but actively came to Canseco’s defense. …

But perhaps the best example of La Russa’s unwavering focus on winning baseball games at the sacrifice of everything else came when he was just beginning as Major League manager for the Chicago White Sox in 1983. Just as the White Sox had broken camp and were to begin the ’83 season that ended with the White Sox winning the AL West, La Russa’s wife, Elaine, called from Florida to tell her husband that she and their 4-year old and 1-year old daughters would not be joining him in Chicago because she had, as detailed in Buzz Bissinger’s 3 Nights in August, been diagnosed with pneumonia and required hospitalization.

According to Bissinger:

La Russa responded to the news with a fateful decision, one that would cement his status as a baseball man but would define him in another way.

Based on a strong finish in 1982, the expectations were high for the White Sox in 1983. But the season got off to a wretched start, mired at 16 and 24. Floyd Bannister was having trouble winning anything. La Marr Hoyt had a record of 2 and 6 and Carlton Fisk was a mess at the plate. In the middle of May, the team had lost eight of nine games. Toronto swept them; then Baltimore swept them. La Russa found himself fighting for his life, or what he mistook for his life. He had a team that was supposed to win, that had spent money on free agents and had good pitching and still wasn’t winning. The only reason he was still around was because of the vision of White Sox owner Reinsdorf, who continued to stand by him. So he did what he thought he had to do: He called his sister in Tampa and asked whether she could take care of the kids so he could take care of baseball.

Bissinger writes that La Russa regretted the decision and has never forgiven himself, but a pattern of behavior that put baseball before anything and everything else was in motion.

So yeah, maybe Rolen does have a problem with La Russa, though the manager just can’t seem to figure it out.

“I keep saying it, I don’t understand. I told him this. He’s never given me an explanation,” La Russa said. “I don’t understand why he can be down on the Cardinals, and I don’t understand why he can be down on me.”

Maybe people just don’t get along? Maybe there is no explanation? Or, perhaps, maybe some people don’t want to be judged by the company they keep. Either way, it doesn’t seem as if Rolen is going to change his position and it appears very certain that La Russa hasn’t done anything different than he had done in the past.

Pickin’ and Grinnin’

Minnie PearlIn doing some research last night I learned that the television program “Hee Haw” was taped at Opryland. Actually, it was just accidental research – I was really looking for pictures of the famous “Hee Haw girls.”

I didn’t find those pictures, but then again I didn’t look too hard. I guess I was struck by the idea that Roy Clark, Buck Owens and Minnie Pearl strutted their so-called “stuff” in the general vicinity where the Tigers traded for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis, thus knocking the balance of power in the AL Central completely off kilter.

But Hee-Haw… come on. Back when we had only 12 channels, Hee-Haw was on one of them. That means someone must have liked it. Someone in Kornfield Kounty was doing something right.

On an unrelated note, I listened to an interview by Terry Gross with John C. Reilly this morning on the ol’ podcaster and it was revealed that Reilly viewed a lot of adult-themed movies in preparation for his role in Boogie Nights. Reilly then cleared up the facts and pointed out it wasn’t just for Boogie Nights that he watched a lot of adult-themed films. In fact, he joked (was it?), he watched a lot of those movies to prepare for every role he played.

These days though, Buck, Roy and Minnie don’t have the run of Opryland. At least until Thursday, the world of organized baseball is the talk of the complex. And in that regard, there is a lot of interest amongst the baseball establishment in what kind of stunt the Phillies and general manager Pat Gillick will pull off next. So far the Phillies have left a bit to be desired in the pursuit to bolster the club for another run at the NL East in 2008. They whiffed on Mike Lowell and Randy Wolf and then pulled the ol’ “blessing in disguise” guff afterwards.

That’s mostly because the “I know you are but what am I,” schtick didn’t apply. Hey, that’s about all they have to work with.

In regard to Wolf, though, the Phillies comments/behavior seems especially childish, which for our purposes is fantastic. When Wolf spurned both the Phillies and his ex-GM Ed Wade and the Astros in order to sign an incentive-laden deal to sign with the San Diego Padres, Gillick took a little backhanded swipe at the fan (and media)-friendly lefty.

Gillick said:

“Maybe it was a blessing in disguise. We went after him a couple times, and it didn’t work out last year and this year. So, it’s pretty evident that he doesn’t want to play for our team. If someone doesn’t want to be part of the team, it’s better if he plays somewhere else.”

Frankly, Gillick sounds like a spurned teen-aged boy who after a good-looking girl tells him gently that, “I’m sorry, it’s not going to work out. Your ballpark is much too small and I have my ERA and sanity to look out for,” in turn calls the girl, “ugly.”

So which is it, dude? I thought you liked her (or in this case, Wolfie).

It also seems that Gillick was more interest in his needs and desires and not what someone else might want or need. If a person is genuine and compassionate, they would understand that Wolfie needs to be in San Diego. After all, he is a Southern California kid whose mom can easily make the trip south from Los Angeles to see her son pitch in San Diego. Plus, the Padres have a starting rotation that has Greg Maddux, Jake Peavy and Chris Young. That’s five Cy Young Awards and definitely one Hall of Famer. Warming up for the ninth is Trevor Hoffman, who is known to blow a few from time to time, but he’s saved at least 37 games in every complete season he’s pitched since 1996. That adds up to 524 saves, which is more than everyone ever.

Should we continue on about San Diego? No, well we’re going to anyway. In San Diego it’s a sunny 70 degrees every stinkin’ day of the year. In fact today, as the snow and wind whipped around and made travel and outdoor activities miserable, it was sunny and nearly 70 degrees in San Diego.

San Diego…

Forget the fact that the Phillies’ ballpark is slightly larger than the one in Williamsport, San Diego’s park was the toughest in which to score a run in during 2007. It was also the most difficult to get a hit in and the second most difficult in which to club a homer.

So there’s that, too. But listening to the Phillies it sounds like they are tired of people telling them, “No way… not in that ballpark.”

Or are they?

Tadahito IguchiApparently the Phillies and Tadahito Iguchi met up at the ice cream parlor the other day. It also seems as if those kids had a few things to discuss, too. The Phillies, badly in need of a third baseman (as well as a pitcher or two and a center fielder), could be willing to make a deal with Iguchi for 2008 and beyond. Iguchi, for his part, hit the open market and learned that all the second base slots for the good teams were spoken for. But third base in Philadelphia looks wide open.

But it’s not as easy as it sounds. Because the Phillies released Iguchi after the season (as he wished) and did not offer him salary arbitration or sign him to an extension by Nov. 15, Iguchi would not be able to play for the team until May 15. Iguchi’s agent, Rocky Hall, believes the parties can find a loophole and some juggling and wrangling in order to get by the rule, but then there is that whole collective bargaining thing.

If Iguchi does it, then someone else will do it and then everyone will do it and all we’ll have is anarchy. Is the destruction of labor-management practices in the United States worth all of that just to allow Tadahito Iguchi to play third base?

Sure, the Phillies need a third baseman better than Wes Helms and Greg Dobbs, but I’m siding with the American way.

All this for just a little information

Tony Orlando & DawnThe first places most folks look for when they are on the road and far from home and need a little action are the bars and/or the hotel lobby. Everyone knows what goes on in a bar so there isn’t much need for explanation there, but the hotel lobby – specifically if it also has a bar – is like Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras, Times Square during rush hour, and Broad Street during a parade.

At least that’s the way it is during the baseball winter meetings.

Essentially, that’s what the winter meetings are… it’s like Spring Break only no one goes topless. Or, it’s like the South by Southwest Music conference in Austin, Tx. only not cool. Come on, think about it – how cool could it be? A convention in at a resort that bumped Tony Orlando (but not Dawn) so a cavalcade of baseball writers, general managers, those hep cats from ESPN, and a bunch of job-seeking wannabe baseball flaks all under one roof… do we have to get into why that’s the epitome of uncool?

OK.

First there are the baseball writers, who easily are the angriest and most frustrated group of people on the planet. They’re all burnt out from long hours spent at the ballpark and ridiculous travel itineraries for eight months. Better yet, the best way to really drive one of those guys crazy it to say: “Hey, at least it beats a real job, right?”

It's Good to be the KingAs far as the hipness factor goes, I can only speak reasonably knowledgably about the Philadelphia crew and let’s just say TMZ.com doesn’t have a group of photogs staking the gang out. For one thing, one of the guys used to be an actor in Renaissance Faires and, no, he wasn’t even something somewhat cool as the knight on horseback in the joust ring. Nope, he was a pawn in the chess game and it wasn’t like the chess game in Mel Brooks’ History of the World Part I.

But, scarily enough, it gets much worse than that. But in the interest in protecting the guilty… aw, forget it. The geeks love online poker, one dork is into long-distance running, another went by the stage name “Todd Cougar,” and still another is pining for a long-ago shorn mullet.

What sane person would agree to spend a summer surrounded by a group like that? But there they are — trolling the lobby in Opryland listening to the tall tales and truth stretching that goes on whenever baseball folks get together. Actually, it’s really not all that different than any other time spent during a summer afternoon only there isn’t a game to be played later in the evening and no one has to drive anywhere, which heightens the stakes a bit. Think about it – who goes to Spring Break and rents a car? Probably no one.

So if the plan is to get the scribes, GMs, job seekers and hangers on all under one roof it will lessen the load for the local law enforcement and make the scene into how it must have been to cover the Mint 400 motorcycle race in the desert around Vegas in the early 1970s.

Raoul DukeIf Raoul Duke and his Samoan attorney roll into the lobby at Opryland, everyone should leave – or keep tabs on the grapefruits.

Anyway, the GMs are the reason why everyone gets together for the week. Really, what other reason is there? In a baseball organization, the GM is where the proverbial buck stops. Actually, it’s better than that. The GM is where the information originates and information (not knowledge) is the commodity everyone has traveled to Nashville and camped out in Opryland for. Think about it – is there another resource more important than information. It’s better than gold and almost as good as oil and it’s the reason why ESPN and Yahoo! are snapping up all the top hunter/gatherers in the info set for a premium. It’s also why ESPN has set up something of its own little Green Zone inside of Opryland – information.

It’s the king.

That means the GM-types are the kingmakers. And like any good crowner of things that get crowned, the GM is coquettish as all get-out. You know how the scribes like to cite “sources” in all those rumor mill-type stories folks wolf down like hamsters and their pellets? Well, apparently those “sources” have access to the inner sanctum. They might actually know the GM well enough to collect crumbs of information here and there before running off to feed it to the gluttonous writer-types and their panting public.

SpudsYet even though the general managers from all across baseball are making the scene at Opryland, it’s not as if their presence boosts the hipness factor. Actually, unless one thinks those Hawaiian/Tommy Bahama-type shirts are “cool,” then rollin’ with the GMs is the way to go. After all, this is a set of people who take their cues on coolness from Spuds McKenzie.

Imagine that… instead of covering South by Southwest where one could hang out at the hotel and talk shop with Deerhoof, the writers are left to chase down old men who look as if they just got in from the hunt. Instead of Elvis Costello they get a guy dressed like Elvis.

Incidentally, why is that Elvis impersonators are usually always the fat Elvis?

Apparently, though, there is one GM who is considered cool, but that’s because at 33, Theo Epstein is approximately 40 years younger than all of his counterparts. Epstein is also considered cool because he plays guitar in a cover band called Trouser or something ambiguous like that. Come to think about it, the band’s name could be the most undetailed thing happening with Epstein. After all, a name like Trouser (if that is, in fact, the name) doesn’t befit a devotee of Sabermetrics. Sabermetrics, of course, is the baseball philosophy that likes to take all the life and intrigue out of a sport and assign it cold, hard spots on a sheet of graph paper or an excel spreadsheet. Enough of the thinking, they say, give me data.

ElvisNothing ambiguous like human nature… we need undeniable information!

Nevertheless, Trouser is a cover band that plays cover songs of cover songs, which, frankly, is about as low on the musical food chain as one can go. In fact, it’s the Renaissance Faire of the musical word – the pawn in the chess game instead of the knight in the phony joust.

But really, the baseball winter meetings are all just a phony joust. Oh sure, actual work gets done and trades/deals are made. In fact, Pat Gillick, the GM of the Phillies, says he hopes to leave Nashville and Opryland with a pitcher to add to the roster. Meanwhile, a few of the scribes hope to leave Opryland with one of those Hee-Haw girls.